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Timing with accuracy beats power and speed

How does an LEO armed only with a handgun win in combat against an assailant using a rifle or shotgun, or against multiple lethal assailants?



As much as we would rather use shoulder-fired weapons in all of our lethal fights, American law enforcement officers are not always armed with shoulder-fired guns. Deadly harm and lethal resistance often emerge in circumstances when protectors are not expecting it. In those situations, we must win with what we have. The service pistol, therefore, remains the primary weapon in American law enforcement in spite of our worthy efforts to integrate rifles.

Over the past couple of decades, we’ve seen more criminals using rifles. How does a law enforcement officer armed only with a handgun win in combat against an assailant using a rifle or shotgun, or against multiple lethal assailants? The answer may be found in the aphorism that helps us believe in the opportunity to win against powerful odds: timing with accuracy beats power.

In Garland, Texas, May 2015, as a cartoon exhibit neared its closing time two adult males drove up to the front of the building wearing body armor, armed with three rifles, three pistols and 1,500 rounds of ammunition. [1] Standing in the open were Garland police officer Greg Stevens and an unarmed security guard. The passenger exited the vehicle and began firing his 100-round, drum-fed rifle at the two uniformed protectors. The driver was armed with a drum-fed AK-pattern rifle. Beginning at a distance of 15 yards and using his Glock model 21 service pistol, Officer Stevens defeated both assailants. SWAT arrived and took it from there. The security guard was the only other person injured. [2]

Here are some other examples of officers who took direct rifle fire and won using their service pistols:

  • In Lodi, California, November 2019, Officer Joravar Atwal arrived in an industrial area at 5:10 a.m., responding to 911 calls reporting sounds of gunshots. Atwal exited his police vehicle and came under rifle fire. Officer Atwal used his Glock pistol in an exchange of gunfire, hitting the rifle-armed assailant several times. Atwal was uninjured and the assailant was taken to the hospital.

Score critical hits first

Regardless of the number of opponents or the size and types of their weapons, the person who scores critical hits first usually wins a gunfight. [1] So that is the performance objective when an assailant escalates circumstances to lethal for someone other than themselves: score critical hits first.

The word first is a reference to timing. Critical hits is a reference to accuracy. [2] As you’ve heard in training, you cannot miss fast enough to win, but you can hit soon enough to win. Soon enough is a reference to timing.

It does not matter what the assailant is armed with if a pistol-armed LEO incapacitates the assailant(s) before the assailant shoots someone. In contrast, it is nonsensical and tragic when LEOs have an opportunity to save a hostage’s life but choose to wait until after the assailant kills the hostage before officers initiate action to try to save the hostage. Protectors should seize opportunities when they emerge and act to save the innocent life they can when they can. (In this paragraph the words before, wait, until, after, initiate and when are references to timing.)

But timing alone will not save a life if the government’s bullets do not hit the intended target. In fact, in order to compel cessation of an adversary’s deadly actions the protector’s bullets must incapacitate the assailant. When firearms instructors speak of effective shot placement, we mean hits that cause rapid incapacitation. (Rapid is another reference to timing.)

“The only reliable way to stop the aggression of a fearless assailant is to disrupt his vital body structures. ….The heart, major blood vessels, and upper part of the spine are the vital structures of the torso.” [3] These, then, are our primary targets during a lethal confrontation. Control [4] is required to reliably hit these body structures.

Timing with accuracy

For an LEO armed with a pistol, an effective response to a lethal threat usually requires controlled rapid fire. Controlled gunfire implies accuracy, hits on target, hits that matter and discipline sufficient to protect the community from errant rounds. Intentional hits, contrasted with lucky hits, require some degree of control.

Witnesses at the Garland, Texas incident said the first assailant’s rifle was fired so fast it sounded like automatic fire. It does not matter how fast a person can pull the trigger if their shots do not affect the intended target. Your opponent cannot miss fast enough to win, either. Timing with accuracy beats sheer speed.

The terms fast, faster and speed are related to timing. In fact, “controlled rapid fire” explicitly declares there is a need for a protector’s shooting speed. If control among combatants is similar, then of course the faster shooter has the timing advantage. Speed alone is beatable, but speed with accuracy is part of timing that matters.

When the situation becomes lethal, “the difference between the living and the dying is in the timing.” [5] The principles of timing with accuracy are not exclusive to law enforcement officers with handguns. The opportunity to win caused by timing and accuracy is up for grabs by the side that uses the combination.

If government officers/agents don’t seize timing opportunities, if we hesitate at the moment when we should act to protect life, then by default the other side (the side that is acting) has the timing advantage. Whether they achieve accuracy depends on their preparation and, unfortunately, chance. They only have to get lucky to score a critical hit; that is why we cannot delay when the situation becomes lethal. (Hesitate and delay are references to timing.)

In the context of law enforcement lethal conflict, chance is always a factor, so there are no guarantees. But timing with accuracy gives protectors a significant opportunity to win against multiple assailants, opponents who begin with the initiative, and adversaries armed with more powerful weapons.


1. We recognize that close-quarters combatants can shoot each other simultaneously, including fatally. Plus, due to the delayed effects of bullet wounds in the torso, opponents can score critical hits on each other sequentially before incapacitation occurs in the first person hit. Be that as it may, the person who scores critical hits first usually wins.

2. Accuracy refers to how close a hit is to the intended, optimal impact location. Precision refers to consistency of shot placement. Accuracy refers to result, which can be achieved by luck or skill. Precision refers to method (and equipment) and requires discipline and skill. Precision is the most reliable way to achieve accuracy.

3. Fackler ML. Police Handgun Ammunition Selection. Wound Ballistics Review, Fall 1992.

4. Controlling the weapon while operating the trigger matters. Control refers to how the weapon is held, how the trigger is operated, and the amount of discipline exerted. There are varying degrees of control. At the extreme end is precision, which is a very focused concentration on and deliberate manipulation of the trigger, one shot at a time.

5. Lowry D. Autumn Lightning: The Education of an American Samurai, 2001, p. 96.

Deputy Chief Kyle Sumpter has over 30 years of law enforcement service. He was a patrol officer, FTO, training coordinator, major crimes detective, firearms instructor, SWAT officer and team commander, and graduated from the FBINA session 237. Kyle was on two seasons of the reality shooting competition show Top Shot. He teaches deadly force, de-escalation and resolving lethal situations to law enforcement officers throughout the state of Washington. Reach him at